The younger years of Carl Heck’s life were very typical for someone growing up in rural northwest Missouri.
A native of Maitland, Heck is the son of a farmer, so most days of his youth included doing daily chores on the family farm.
In fact, when the time came to attend college, Heck went to nearby Northwest Missouri State University, studying agriculture, and earning a degree in 1970.
“I grew up on a tiny farm on a dirt road in Maitland,” Heck said. “My father, uncle, and cousins all farmed so I assumed I would too.”
Instead, a trip while in college changed the course of the would-be-farmer.
Heck attended a service at the Maryville Baptist Church with a fraternity brother from Phi Sigma Epsilon.
He recalls that was the last service at that church as a transition was underway to a new building. While looking around the soon-to-be closed church, Heck’s eye caught a glimpse of some stained glass windows.
Knowing they would soon be part of rubble, Heck made a deal with Rev. Howard Judah.
Heck bought all 25 stained glass windows in exchange for a donation to the building fund of the new church — $1 per glass — and one other stipulation — Heck had to remove the windows himself.
So, he borrowed his father’s grain truck and drove into town with tools and a ladder.
While still in college at the time, the 25 pieces went into storage back in his father’s barn in Maitland.
That faithful day paved the path for Heck’s next 40-plus years of life.
Heck later moved to Aspen, Colorado, following graduation and started his journey as an art dealer in 1972.
This month, one of his rare Tiffany mosaics will be on display at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. The exhibit will feature artwork by Louis C. Tiffany, an artist that Heck has been drawn to collecting.
The exhibit starts May 20 and will run through early next year.
“This exhibition is primarily very rare avenues of Tiffany studios,” Heck said. “Twenty-five years ago, I started to focus on Tiffany. It is the Rolls Royce of stained glasses.”
Tiffany, the son of the founder of the jewelry company by the same name, did mostly stained glass windows and stained glass lampshades.
Heck shipped out his rare mosaic last month to New York and the piece will be photographed and get published in a book, a nice avenue for advertising without actually advertising, according to Heck.
Heck’s ‘Mosaic Clock Face’ dates to between 1895 and 1900 and has been published in two books and been displayed at seven different exhibits throughout the world.
The last exhibit he took part in saw seven pieces showcased in Paris, Montreal and Richmond, Virginia. He purchased the artwork — which doesn’t feature any actual hands on the clock face — from an art dealer in California in the late 1990s.
How rare that piece is, is truly unknown, but Heck estimated for every 100 lamp shades made, Tiffany made one window. His mosaic works were rarer than the windows. Records of such designs were lost in a fire in 1957 in New York City.
Heck’s art dealing career dates to a trip to church in Maryville. Shortly after moving to Aspen following graduation he saw the interest in antique furniture, quilts, and stained glass windows.
With the stained glass windows he purchased from the Baptist church, Heck began a series of trips between Colorado and Missouri.
He would take truckloads of stained glass windows from Kansas City, St. Joseph and Omaha, among other locales, back to Colorado to sell.
“I was hauling them back to Aspen and they sold like donuts,” Heck said. “I couldn’t keep them in stock.”
That led to him starting Carl Heck Decorative Arts in Aspen, a business he ran for 16 years. He sold more than 6,000 stained glass windows in that span. Celebrities flocked to his business and one of his first sales was a housewarming gift for John Denver.
His trips across the country looking for Tiffany pieces have proven very fruitful. He took his father, Earl, to a Sotheby’s auction where Heck had a Tiffany glass window for sale.
It netted $350,000 — a world record at the time.
“He just sat there in the crowd and shook his head …,” Heck told AuctionWeek.com. “I remember him remarking that you could buy about 10 farms for that much in Missouri.”